A little more than three months after spring commencement was postponed because of COVID-19, Tennessee Tech students and their family and friends were finally able to celebrate graduation.
More than 600 students came to campus to participate in three separate commencement ceremonies on Saturday at the Hooper Eblen Center.
“This is really fun because I also played volleyball here, so this is the last time I get to do something on campus,” said Emily Brooks, an engineering graduate from Franklin, Tennessee.
“My first day on campus was Aug. 8, four years ago. This is a nice way to come full circle.”
Tech students had an extended spring break in mid-March and then all classes were moved online for the rest of the semester because of the pandemic, causing commencement to be postponed. But the students who graduated in Spring 2020 and Summer 2020, including those who received master’s degrees and doctorates, walked across the stage, heard their name called and received their diploma cover.
“I’m glad that we could still get out here, especially for the parents. It’s important to them, too,” said Jessie Cooper, an engineering graduate from Maryville, Tennessee, who finished his degree during summer classes. “I think it means more for everyone to be in person and have that feeling of a real graduation.”
The program included video messages from Gov. Bill Lee, Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter, Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton and alum Jacob Hoot, who won season 17 of The Voice. Hoot wrapped up the video messages with an acoustic performance of his hit song “Tennessee Strong” he wrote and dedicated to the victims of the tornado that struck Putnam County.
Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham presided over the services and had a heart-felt message for the graduates.
“It’s said that adversity doesn’t create character, but it does reveal it,” said Oldham. “This year, your lives have been assaulted by a tornado, pounded by a pandemic, and challenged by tensions of heart and mind. And by those tests, you character has been revealed: For its kindness, for its strength, for its tenacity.”
Faculty, staff, graduates and guests followed safety protocol, wearing masks and social distancing during all of the ceremonies. Graduates were spaced out on the Eblen Center floor and Oldham spoke through a purple mask.
“My experience as president is forever linked to your time here,” Oldham explained. “Unprecedented, challenging, strange, lonely, scary, costly, anxious, quiet, surreal. These are just a few of the words used to describe the pandemic, surely the most significant challenge of our lives.
“In fact, words seem inadequate to describe the complete impact on each of us physically, emotionally, socially psychologically, and financially,” continued Oldham. “Yet, we are here, doing what we must do to protect each other and encourage each other. And celebrate.”